Reverse engineering the hunger for learning
Reverse engineering is what we all need to focus on if we intend on creating Digital Age learners.
There is an attention shift going on in society today, and it is happening with incredible velocity. Whether you are a parent, coach, teacher or school administrator, you need to understand that this shift is real. Now, you can blame technology for this shift, but that is not going to make the changes in engagement any different.
If you are in charge of young learners, then you are responsible for understanding their attention. That is your number one priority. Spoiler alert, it doesn’t help anyone to complain about a perceived lack of attention.
What we should be doing is meeting learners where their attention is at. Always remember that attention is about supply and demand. I’ll explain…
Supply and Demand for Attention
In economic terms, as demand for an item increases, prices rise. Manufacturers almost always respond to the price increase by producing a larger supply of that item. They are attempting to be responsive to the consumer by doing this. They are reacting to the market. The result is that this increases competition and drives the price down.
Now let’s look at the supply and demand for attention in learning today in schools.
Those in charge of learning, namely schools and parents, are the manufacturers. The end-users or consumers are the students. The supply is learning, and the price is attention.
Let’s go back to the result of an increase of product (learning). It may seem counter-intuitive to educators, but the value or price (attention) actually falls when we push for too much learning. This is an economics 101 lesson that we have overlooked for decades. Again, this is a reaction to the market conditions. Unfortunately, the reaction is an act of impatience and the result is not what was desired.
If we were patient. We would then find the right level of product that would keep the prices up and the desire on the part of the consumers to still want the product equally high. But we don’t. We get a taste of selling the learning and we want to sell more, and more, and more.
We are missing out on the most important part of the equation. The context. We are forgetting that the end-user and their attention is the most important part of the equation. We get greedy, just like the manufacturers.
It does not matter how fancy you are as a salesperson, or a teacher. If the consumer does not want your product, then you can’t sell it to them.
What if, when the price (attention) was high, we then slow down the sale and build context. Establish remarkable relationships. Build life-long, loyal customers. Establish our brand. What if we did the things that the most successful companies, in the most successful industries have done? Would learning outcomes look different?
Would we be creating learners who are hungrier to learn? I think the answer is a resounding yes.
The culture of impatience in schools
There are two paths we can take in managing the supply and demand related to learning and attention. One path involves constantly reacting. This is the impatient path. Unfortunately, this is the path that, so many schools have chosen because they can see the results today. When a school is on the path the question today is did learners pass or fail? Were the scores good enough or not? Does this sound familiar?
The second path, the one less traveled, is the one of patience. It’s the long game. It’s the path that makes learners hungry. Hungry for what you ask? I was hoping you would ask that. It’s the path that make learners hungry to learn…more.
How does technology fit in to this?
What technology does is it allows us to create context. Technology allows us to connect to the learners in more meaningful ways. The problem is that almost no one understands how to do this with Digital Age learners.
We are so busy on the impatient path, always reacting and responding to attention, that we have lost sight of the long game. We have lost sight of the macro context.
The good news is that there are tools that can be used to fix this. The tools are easy to use, but it requires a shift in mindset on the part of the adult. One way to connect with learners contextually is to begin vlogging. This requires a great deal of authenticity and hustle, but the rewards far outweigh the effort. This is a high ROI activity. You can check out some of my content here:
Two prevailing models for learning
As we continue into the Digital Age there are primarily two models for learning that are available in schooling. The Utilitarian Learning Model (ULM) and the Intentional Learning Model (ILM). The ULM is the model that is the most widespread in American education. However, I believe that the ILM is the superior model for developing learners who are hungry for learning.
Utilitarian model of learning
There are two purposes for learning in the ULM. The first purpose for learning is to avoid pain. This includes behaviors where the learner learns because they want to avoid something unpleasant, like discipline or rejection. The second purpose for learning in the ULM is to pursue happiness. This is when learners are learning because they are inherently interested in the topic.
The ULM is needs driven and shorter in duration. Individual lessons that are skill based are examples of the utilitarian model. The outcomes that result from heavily leaning on this model are that skill acquisition is normally retained for a shorter period of time. Accountability and testing are associated with the ULM.
Intentional model of learning
The ILM is better suited for learning in the Digital Age because it is contextual. Intentional learning is interest driven and has a longer scope. Typically, the skills acquired by way of intentional learning are longer lasting.
The growth of open resources (OER’s) and platforms like YouTube make it so that intentional learning is finally a viable option for schools. Again, these tools allow for more personalized learning experiences.
What is needed for intentional learning
Intentional learning happens for hungry learners. It’s an organic learning process. The process is flexible and fluid.
There are three necessities for establishing the ILM in schooling. First, there must be a well-articulated plan where the learning outcomes are the result of reverse engineering. Second, schools and teachers need to organize spaces to support the learning. The makerspace movement is an example of the ILM at work. In these spaces learning can take place more organically. Finally, there must be an explicit attempt to create habits to support learning. Explicitly teaching social-emotional intelligences like empathy and persistence are extremely important for the success of intentional learning.
Education started to recognize the value of reverse engineering a little over a decade ago when Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe created Understanding by Design. In a nutshell, what they were referring to was reverse engineering. The idea was to determine the learning outcomes up front and then work back from them.
Traditionally reverse engineering is something that business do. The process begins with an existing product and works backward to figure out how it does what it does. When the product’s basic principle or core concept is determined, the next step is to reproduce the same results. It has become a common practice worldwide. In fact, reverse engineering is responsible for the ubiquitous smartphone. In the tech industry is often called emulation.
Tying it all together
The one thing that connects us all is the desire to gain and maintain learners’ attention. This is the great challenge in schooling. If we can reverse engineer what Digital Age citizens should be, then we can succeed in this age where the speed of attention shifts is ubiquitous. Let’s start to look at the challenges with an entrepreneurial mindset and meet them head on.
Thank you again for our time and attention. I have so much gratitude for your willingness to take the journey with me!